Asking good questions
After an icebreaker, perhaps after worship, perhaps you will have a brief introduction to the topic followed by an open question with many right answers in the area of the topic for discussion. Not too hard. Only allow each person to say one idea. The aim if possible is to connect the topic with peoples lives or something they already know well.
Open and closed questions
Open questions have many valid answers. “What comes to mind when…” “Why do people…” “How would you…”
Closed questions expect yes or no as the answer. Or have a right answer, like exam questions. Or are rhetorical. “Does everyone agree with that, yes?”
Should you ever use closed questions? Sometimes.
Comprehension: e.g. “In the passage, what is forbidden?” What does it say (closed) can be followed by What does it mean (more open) and How does that apply to us (application) How does that apply to you (personal).
Easy and difficult questions
Easy questions are not too deep, do not require action or commitment.
Difficult questions may require significant brainpower or it could be that they suggest a conflict of thinking (not a bad thing, but perhaps not as an opener), a challenge to behaviour.
Good discussion questions take careful preparation - and it helps to evaluate your questions - are they open or closed? easy or difficult?
Keeping a discussion flowing
What can you do as a leader to help a discussion to flow?
• Avoid stating your opinion for as long as possible, and preferably let someone else express that opinion (because otherwise it squelches others and feels like pontification). Unless modelling an example answer where there are lots of answers.
• Allow some silence. But also, don’t be afraid to repeat the question between different people’s answers. If you use almost exactly the same words, it doesn’t distract the thinking process.
• Aim for interchange between members and the group, not with yourself. “Going through the chair” is a last resort to control rowdy politicians! “Would anyone like to share with the group … what they had for breakfast this morning?” (Use gesture/nodding to encourage another person – don’t speak yourself)
• Minimise your conversational grunts and listen for other peoples – it means they want to say something and if you are quiet it says to the group that you’d prefer them to say something.
• Don’t judge answers “That’s right, John”, “I agree”, “Yes” or vice versa. Find phrases like “What do other people think about that?” “Any other ideas”. It keeps the discussion moving round and it is also not so difficult to get the group to disagree with a dodgy answer if you always look for additional answers anyway.
• Engage with body language: sit forward, nod, give eye contact. Always be ready to give your eye contact to someone else.
• Develop ideas: “In what way?” “Has anyone else found that/ever felt like that?”
• Smile; encourage gentle humour.
• Gently challenge spiritual jargon and clichés. “What do other people think it means to ‘pray into’ a situation?”
• Have a plan for various directions of discussion – expect not to use them all. E.g. John 3:16 what different directions might the discussion go in? God’s love, the world, Son, belief, eternal life, hell.
• Then go with the flow. Follow up interesting or unexpected turns in the discussion: “Lets stay with that thought for a moment. What similar experiences have other people had?”. I like most diversions; they often lead to the real issues in people’s lives.